In the End

July 1, 2010

When your job is to wade everyday through the quicksand of tragedy and sorrow and hate and violence that fills an emergency room, the people that stand by you are your lifeline.

I worked my last shift at my home hospital tonight. In between backslaps and well-wishes we saw more than 50 patients in eight hours, including a young man that will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair with a machine to help him breathe after breaking his neck, a young woman (younger than I am) that we saved after the substance of her heart began to melt, and a teenager who suffered a retinal detachment when her “baby daddy” hit her in the face with the leg of a chair. 

I said goodbye to the nurses and techs and unit clerks and security guards and housekeepers and residents and med students and colleagues. I gave thanks to them all for their help and support over the years and we laughed about funny things that had happened over the years. I ate my dinner in the staff lounge and I talked with Audrey about her special needs daughter and Freddy about the new boat he wants to buy (if his wife will let him), and we complained and laughed about some of the ridiculous new rules and regulations that the hospital administration is enacting.

And it dawned on me that I won’t have this anymore.

I may see Audrey or Freddy out and around town sometime, but I am no longer a part of their lives. I won’t get to hear about Mickey’s softball triumphs or Cindy’s latest trip or Beth’s newest boyfriend. I won’t know whether Rocky got his season tickets to the Eagles or if Slim’s brother will get out of jail soon. I won’t get regular updates on the new babies that will be born this year and I won’t duck into an empty room with a pregnant nurse and catch a quick peek at the little intrauterine life with the ultrasound machine. I won’t know the daily details of Ally’s struggle with MS until there is an inevitable and probably terrible turn of events.

I won’t be in their lives and they won’t be in mine, these people that have meant so much to me. The reason why this is so jarring can be found in the first paragraph of this essay. When your job is to wade everyday through the quicksand of tragedy and sorrow and hate and violence that fills an emergency room, the people that stand by you are your lifeline.

I feel like I have cut my lifeline.

Diseases are pretty much the same everywhere. Patients are pretty much the same everywhere. Brutality and savagery and fear exist in every ER - the thing that makes one ER different from another is the people that you work with. Will the angels and tough guys in my new ER pull me out of the quicksand?

I’ve cleaned out my locker and peeled my name off the door. I’ve turned in my ID badge and keys. I’ve stood in the ambulance bay breathing in the exhaust and turned off the lights in the trauma room for the last time.

Good night. God bless.